Howard Kurtz, media critic

Blog ››› ››› JAMISON FOSER

Something to keep in mind as Barack Obama takes office: Howard Kurtz on whether President Bush was right to refuse to answer a question from Helen Thomas yesterday: "He's the president(for another week, that is). He can call on whoever he wants."

Later during the same online Q&A, Kurtz defended his claim that MSNBC leans to the left:

Howard Kurtz: "Morning Joe" (a show I like) is the only MSNBC program hosted by a conservative, albeit one who spent plenty of time criticizing his Republican Party over the last two years. Tucker Carlson has been banished. The evening programming is handled by Keith Olbermann, Rachel Maddow and Chris Matthews, who just got finished exploring running for the Senate from Pennsylvania as a Democrat.

Forget, for a moment, the absurdity of using Chris Matthews as evidence of liberalism run amuck at MSNBC. What Kurtz doesn't tell you is that Olbermann, Maddow and Matthews each have one-hour programs. Scarborough's show is three hours long.

Notice also that Kurtz qualifies his description of JoeSco as a conservative ("one who spent plenty of time criticizing his Republican Party") but offers no such qualification for his contention that Matthews is a Democrat, despite Matthews' lengthy history of gushing over conservatives like George W. Bush and John McCain, and of attacking progressives and Democrats. Basically, Kurtz' entire answer was spin.

Later, when he was called on his failure to note that JoeSco's show is three hours, Kurtz kept spinning:

Kurtz: By the way, Scarborough has a co-host, Mika Brzezinski, who is certainly to his left. And the three hours are filled with guests from both parties and both sides of the media spectrum, from Peggy Noonan to Gene Robinson.

Well, ok. Chris Matthews' show is "filled with guests from both partes and both sides of the media spectrum," too, but Kurtz didn't mention that. He simply continued to pretend that the hours of MSNBC hosted by a conservative don't count for various reasons, while ignoring the fact that those same reasons apply to the MSNBC hosts he considers liberal.

During the same Q&A, Kurtz pointed to the fact that "Tucker Carlson has been banished" from MSNBC as evidence of the cable channel's liberal leanings. When a reader pointed out that Carlson wasn't "banished," his terrible show that nobody watched was cancelled, presumably because it was terrible and nobody watched it, Kurtz replied:

Kurtz: Why could Tucker, a smart guy, not have continued as a contributor and commentator? MSNBC just didn't have much appetite for his services.

Kurtz seems to think Carlson was entitled to a job; he wasn't. (And he doesn't seem all that "smart" lately.) Kurtz's insinuations aside, there is no reason to believe that MSNBC lacks "appetite" for Carlson's "services" because Carlson is a conservative. After all, MSNBC is plenty hungry for Pat Buchanan's services as a commentator. But Kurtz never mentions Buchanan, perhaps because MSNBC's continued relationship with such an unrepentant bigot undermines Kurtz's claims that the channel leans to the left.

Kurtz's comments about MSNBC are so one-sided, holding the conservatives and liberals there to such different standards, that it becomes harder and harder to avoid the conclusion that Kurtz' claims about MSNBC's ideological leanings reveal more about his own than about the cable channel's.

UPDATE: More Kurtz:

Boston, Mass.: Hi Howard, I notice more and more stories quoting from the Washington Times. I have never even seen that paper, but always thought of it as sort of a right wing rant rather than a legit newspaper. Opinion based on nothing, but just curious as to your opinion on it.

Howard Kurtz: The Washington Times has always been a legitimate newspaper, but it's gained in respectability since my former Post colleague John Solomon took over as executive editor. In past campaigns, I found the paper's coverage blatantly tilted toward the Republicans; in 2008, while I found things to criticize, I also saw an effort to be fair.

Got that? In previous years, Kurtz has found the Washington Times "blatently tilted toward the Republicans" and only last year saw an "effort to be fair" -- but he says the Times has "always been a legitimate newspaper." If being "blatently tilted" towards the GOP and failing to make an "effort to be fair" doesn't disqualify a newspaper from being considered "legitimate," what does?

As for John Solomon, it is likely true that his move from the Washington Post to the Washington Times improved the quality of both publications.

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